StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley

JUNE  2003


Print Large Sky Charts For 10 p.m. EDT:   NORTH | EAST | SOUTH | WEST | ZENITH

[Moon Phases]


353    JUNE 1, 2003:   Astrology: Read but do not Believe
My location on earth was unique, and so were the positions of all of the heavenly bodies when I was born. That is an indisputable fact that no one can argue with, and it is the basic cornerstone of natal astrology and the compilation of a horoscope. You can think of a horoscope as a fixed wheel divided into 12 equal segments or houses surrounded by a moving wheel composed of the 12 sun signs of the zodiac. The moving wheel containing the signs keeps in step with the earth's rotation to show what is above or below the horizon. As the weeks and months pass, the sun, moon, and planets move among the signs of the zodiac as they change their positions in the sky with respect to one another as a result of earth's orbital motion and their own individual motions around the sun. Each of the 12 houses, the 12 signs, the planets, sun, and moon have attributes which play against each other to either enhance or diminish specific life characteristics. The rules for calculating natal horoscopes was synthesized nearly 1900 years ago by the Greek, Claudius Ptolemy (100-170 AD), in a compendium called the "Tetrabiblos." It still remains the essential text for modern-day astrologers, even though the signs no longer match the true locations of the sun, moon, and planets in the sky. I am a Gemini, but the sun was in Taurus when I was born. The astrological signs are no longer synchronized with the same constellations of the zodiac. During Ptolemy's era everything worked fine. All modern astrologers realize this discrepancy, yet most regard the sign as the authentic attribute in calculating horoscopes, ignoring the true locations of the celestial bodies in the heavens. There certainly is no science in astrology. I'll conclude my thoughts next week.

354    JUNE 8, 2003:   Mr. Spock, Where is the Logic?
One of the main paradigms of natal astrology is that the unique positions of the sun, moon, and planets at birth can allow an astrologer to unravel the personality traits and life events of an individual. Central to this model are the 12 zodiacal signs that encircle the heavens along the sun's path and the positions of these celestial wanderers within these signs. Most people believe that by querying someone to reveal their sign, means, in fact, to ask them the constellation that the sun was in when they were born. This supposition is false. The signs are no longer matched with the constellations that they once represented. I'm a Gemini, but the sun was in Taurus when I was born. My sun sign still remains Gemini. The sun has moved a full constellation to the west of where it was positioned when the rules of astrology were created 1900 years ago. The reason for this change is that the earth's axis wobbles slowly like a top. The motion is called precession and during a 25,800-year period, it causes the sun's position to slip backwards against the zodiac, meaning that eventually Gemini people will be born with the sun in the constellation of Aries, and given enough time, all of the zodiacal constellations of the heavens. The seasons stay consistent with the months of the year and with what the sun is doing in the sky, but the constellations that we associate with the seasons are slowly changing. In other words, Orion, the Hunter, now linked with the winter sky, will one day be a summer constellation. How do some astrologers explain away precession, something that was known to the Greeks 2100 years ago? They say that the signs remember the traits of the constellations that originally corresponded with them. Mr. Spock, where is the logic?

355    JUNE 15, 2003:   Follow the Drinking Gourd
High in the northwest, right after dark is the familiar star pattern of the Big Dipper. Three stars arc upward to form the handle; four stars make the cup. Astronomically speaking, the Big Dipper is as American as apple pie even though professionals do not recognize it as an official constellation. To the slaves of the antebellum South, the Dipper or Drinking Gourd, was the northbound marker along the ephemeral Underground Railroad, and the best beacon to freedom for Blacks kept ignorant by their masters. Follow the Drinking Gourd was a song taught to slaves by itinerant carpenter and abolitionist, Peg Leg Joe. Its lyrics gave slaves in Mississippi and Alabama, where Joe worked, a coded message to follow the Tombigbee and Tennessee rivers to the Ohio River and across to freedom. The song begins with, "When the sun comes back," which meant start your journey in the spring. It told slaves, "The riverbank makes a very good road," and that dead trees along the route with markings of Joe's "left foot, peg foot," told them that they were on the correct route. Every verse ended with "Follow the drinking Gourd," which kept slaves always moving northbound. At the headwaters of the Tombigbee, "between two hills, / There's another river on the other side," the Tennessee. So "Follow the Drinking Gourd." And "When the great big river (Ohio) meets the little river (Tennessee), / Follow the Drinking Gourd." The dangerous trip along the 800 miles of snaking riverbanks from Mobile AL, took escaping slaves about a year to traverse, bringing them to the Ohio, hopefully, when it was still frozen and easier to cross. "For the old man (Peg Leg Joe) is a-waiting for to carry you to freedom, / If you follow the Drinking Gourd."

356    JUNE 22, 2003:   Watery Sky
Rain, rAin, raIn, raiN, RAIN...! Even the ducks in the pond up the street are starting to complain. So what is an astronomer supposed to do when his neighbors are all engaged in building arks and learning how to convert cubits into feet and inches? For those few lucky souls like me who work in planetariums, the answer is really simple. We spin up a cricket CD, turn off the lights, pop on the stars, kick back, and get our quick fix of clear, dark sky. After a recent sojourn into the artificial night, I contemplated the number of constellations that deal directly or indirectly with water. My count came to 21 out of 88. In fact, the night sky possesses a water section composed exclusively of patterns that are either wet or are in the process of getting wet. There is Cetus, the Whale or Sea Monster, who wreaked havoc on the lands of Ethiopia; Pisces, the Fish, tied together by a thin cord; Pegasus, the Flying Horse, who is emerging from the foam of the ocean; and Aquarius, the Water Bearer, eternally empting his bucket onto Capricornus, the Sea Goat. I also cannot forget nearby Pisces Austrini, the Southern Fish, or Eridanus, the River, which definitely seems to be at flood stage in my planetarium. All of this rain reminds me of Queen Elizabeth's fateful visit to a school planetarium in Florida many years ago. After months of preparation, security checks, and bomb sniffing dogs, the moment finally arrived. Elizabeth was seated, the theater was darkening, and the stars were emerging. Suddenly a crack of thunder resounded within the dome, followed moments later by a brief commotion. Elizabeth was quickly ushered from the room to the amazement of everyone. The royal clarification for her sudden departure was a change in the Queen's itinerary due to bad weather.

357    JUNE 29, 2003:   Little Dipper
By 10 p.m. when it is fully dark, you'll see the Big Dipper in the NNW about mid-sky, handle up, cup down. By following the two lowest stars of the Dipper from left to right, Merak and Dubhe, and proceeding towards the right in a straight line, you will arrive near the fairly bright and solitary North Star, which marks the end of the handle of the Little Dipper and the pivot point around which all of the northern sky circles. An imaginary plumb bob dropped from the North Star will always intersect the horizon within a degree of true north, a much better gauge than any compass, unless you know how to correct for magnetic declination. This week at 10 p.m. Polaris lies less than 1/4 degree above the true north position. If you have never seen the fainter Little Dipper, now is the best time to make your attempt. The cup is presently above the halfway point in the northern sky. Facing north under a dark, moonless sky at 10 p.m., you'll see the handle arching upward and towards the left. The four stars of the bowl will look like they are balanced precariously on one of its corners, with the Little Dipper's second and third brightest stars, Kochab and Pherkad, above and to the left of the Pole Star. From suburban locales, expect to see all of the stars of the Big Dipper, and Polaris, Kochab, and Pherkad of the Little Dipper. Almost exactly between the middle star in the handle of the Big Dipper, Mizar, and the two brightest stars in the cup of the Little Dipper, lies Thuban in Draco, the Dragon. During Old Kingdom times in ancient Egypt, Thuban was the North Star and may have been used to help align the Great Pyramid. Try finding Thuban with the unaided eye from the country, but use binoculars from more light polluted areas. See Web StarWatch for a detailed map.
[The Dippers]

June Star Map

June Moon Phase Calendar